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  Hard Drive Head Replacement 
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steve last name Jan 05, 2008, 10:46am EST Report Abuse

I owned a 500GB SATA Maxtor DiamondMax 11 hard drive which failed about a year ago, I sent it to Seagate for recovery and they sent it back and told me that these drives don't take well to repair. At this point I was unwilling to lose all the data and on connecting it again when it was returned managed to retrieve a good deal of information before it finally resumed to the clicking state of death, I assume the fact any data was again readable was due to transit vibration. Seagate informed me that in order to successfully replace the damaged heads of the drive I would need the exact same model and even revision of the original drive and it could take maybe 5 or more head replacements before I got the drive to read, after waiting and finally locating 5 second hand drives I am now ready to replace the heads of the drive but am a little unsure of the procedure.

I would like to know if anyone on these forums has any information which could help me understand the method of head replacement without just first diving into it and hoping for the best. I have a degree of technical knowledge and am competent in electronics, I did dismantle a hard drive a few years ago and had limited success in removing the heads, as I just wanted to see mainly what was inside the drive I ended up smashing it with a hammer to get the platter out, unfortunately this is not the case this time round and I would appreciate any insight into the specifics of removing the heads successfully without damage to the drive or platter.

The questions i have are mainly what tools are needed and what to expect when removing the heads, I know I need to use a standard screwdriver for the main cover and torque screwdriver for the heads, I am aware of static charge and dust and that you need to blow on the drive platters alot before reassembling and since the drive is already damaged it doesn't matter too much about microns of dust particles.

Thanks for any help.

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Joshua Marius, LeThe Jan 09, 2008, 11:56am EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
Hey there,

I have also looked into this as many people have brought me unusable hard drives with the only copy of their wedding pictures, etc. I have read some tutorials but it all looks very risky. 1st is the risk of opening the hard drive and exposing it to dust, etc. Then how sensitive all the parts are, one slip, and forget it. I know that there are special labs or companies that do this for you, but it's very expensive. The one tutorial I did read suggested you practice on numerous older hard drives before attempting to repair the main one. Should not be hard to go on eBay and buy a bunch of very old similar hard drives (something I may be looking into).

Anyways, be veeeeery careful, you may end up losing your data with no chances of recovery if you make a mistake. These may help:

Hope everything turns out OK.

Joshua Marius
Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1
Intel Core i5-2500K
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RAID 1: Seagate ST3750528AS 750 GB
CORSAIR Vengeance 8 GB DDR3 1600
eVGA GeForce 8800 GTS
Bungle Jan 09, 2008, 12:29pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
Oh Sure!

1. the first thing you need to do is build yourself a clean room, then you need to clean the exterior casing of the drive and remove all particles of dirt/dust larger than a couple angstroms (1 x 10 ^ -10 meters).

2. remove the drive casing

3. hold the drive head actuator arm(s) a couple micro-meters above the drive platters and pull the actuator out past the drive platters... be careful not to bend the arms.. at all.. (and yes that includes on inconceivably small scales)

4. now carefully remove the solder connecting the wires on the head actuator arm from the read heads.

5. remove the read heads from the actuator arm and any remaining epoxy/adhesive/bonding material left on arm.

6. bond the new drive heads to the actuator arm, be careful not to use more than a few micro grams of adhesive so as not to throw the arm out of balance.

7. with a scanning electron microscope verify that the new heads are in exactly the same position as the old ones.

8. re solder the wires to the drive heads

9. return the drive heads to the parked position at the center of the drive platters.

10. re-attach the cover on the hard drive.

11. install the drive in a PC and test... if any steps from 1-10 are performed incorrectly the drive will fail.

peice of cake!

Core i7 4770K @ 4.4GHz | Corsair H110 | Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD5H | 32GB 1866MHz Corsair Vengeance
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john albrich Jan 09, 2008, 03:56pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
I'm not even going to touch the prospect of at-home "replacing" the read/write heads on a modern drive.

However, if an in-transit "bump" temporarily fixed the problem you are having it is highly unlikely that the problem is a "bad" read/write head(s)

It would be far more likely to be a head carrier/actuator intermittent electrical connectivity problem (possibly aggravated by a loose part inside the platter case)...even contaminants inside the case...before I'd believe the problem is an actual head failure of some type.

If Seagate were to "repair" your drive, and it is an inside-the-case failure, I doubt they would even bother trying to replace any part of the assembly. They'd mount your platters on a lab-jig and copy whatever data remains to a new drive.

Dublin_Gunner Jan 09, 2008, 05:21pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
Once you open a drive outside of a clean room environment, its dead, simple.

Transit vibration should not damagge the drive, unless the vehicle transporting the drive hit a wall at about 50Kph and the drive wasn't secured.

Modern drives can take a severe amount of shock before damage will occur.

Unfortunately its gonna be hit or miss as to whether you're going to be able to retrieve all the info from the drive, but it seems unlikely.

Here's a hard learned lesson in good back up procedures I'm sad to say.

Lancool PC K62
Phenom II x3 @ 3.5Ghz
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steve last name Jan 09, 2008, 06:19pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement

Gerritt Jan 09, 2008, 06:57pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement

Ad Astra Per Aspera
(A rough road leads to the Stars)
We all know what we know, and everyone else knows we are wrong.
System Specifications in BIO
john albrich Jan 09, 2008, 07:33pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
...the tech rep at Seagate told me the heads are running over a damaged platter which eventually wears the head down

If the tech at Seagate told you that, then being very nice, I'll say he is new at the job. A head running over a "damaged" platter typically isn't gently worn down. Platter "damage" often results in catastrophic head crashes and can result in mis-alignments and even r/w heads being literally torn from the arm. It's very, very violent, but on a microscopic scale. And, once the aero-dynamics of the head/platter have been compromised even a little bit by damage or misalignment, the damage can continue to cascade and even become visible to the naked eye.

There is also the question of what caused the "platter damage" in the first place...assuming that is even an accurate evaluation by the Seagate technician. In all likelihood, it started as a head crash (which could have been caused by a number of things) and things went seriously downhill from there.

...difficult to understand if it isn't damaged heads and a simple electronic failure why Seagate wouldn't even touch the drive for reapir

I don't understand that Seagate response either. That is extremely odd, to say the least. They should have quoted you a price for a very straight-forward job of data recovery....not repairing the drive, but using methods I mentioned above they would have likely recovered more data than you have been able to recover after that fluke mechanical jolt during shipping. I've really got to wonder if a legitimate technical assessment was performed by adequately trained personnel at Seagate.

Gerritt and I are pretty much in agreement here as to likely problem and chances of data recovery at this point in time. Actuator and spindle problems of various types can create "clicking" sounds, as can rapid positioning retries due to read errors, servo track errors/failures or damaged read amplifiers and associated electronics. Even a firmware error can cause such a symptom. Firmware (and other electronic) errors can be induced after manufacturing by latent Electro-Static Discharge (ESD).

In short, lots of things can cause similar symptoms.

As you have already opened the drive (if I read things right) and presumably eliminated any obvious mechanical issue such as loose or stuck parts, then you might try the freezer (reduced temperature) method or even Gerritt's whack-a-mole method. ;) There's little left to lose at this point if you're not going to try a professional data recovery service.

However, even now, Seagate should be able and willing to quote you a price for data recovery if that's the route you want to go. But, it won't be cheap and from what you've indicated about "damaged platters", it likely won't recover 100% of your data.

edit-minor addition to "clicking" symptom source

steve last name Jan 10, 2008, 09:42am EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement

john albrich Jan 10, 2008, 12:06pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
Ya know...this may sound bizarre, but you might think about it. We're really off the charts here on data recovery methods anyway.

Instead of the freezer method, how about actually OPERATING the drive in a lowered temperature environment? A refrigerator, for example?

You could set it up as an external USB2.0 drive connected via an USB2IDE+SATA adapter. Don't install it in a case. Set the refrigerator so that the temp is higher than normal...perhaps 55F or whatever is a bit above the specified minimum operating temp of that drive. I've seen consumer-available drives with minimum operating temps as low as 0C/32F, but a quick search suggests 10C/50F seems fairly reasonable for major brands.

Place the drive in the fridge and allow to "cool-down" for a few hours. The only things coming from the fridge should be the USB and drive power cables.

Boot the computer to Windows BEFORE plugging in the disk drive. (to minimize time spent disk is on while Windows boots) Best if you're on a USB2.0 port and not a USB1.x as well.

Plug-in the USB port and see if you can retrieve more of your data. If the drive isn't recognized, then unplug the USB cable and power-down the drive.

I don't see the need to try again while the drive is still at this reduced temp after taking the drive out of the fridge, but I suppose you could consider it to be like the "freezer" test and give it another try.

edit to add:
I might mention that I've also set up a temporary external SATA connection using a 1meter standard SATA cable (instead of an eSATA setup)
However, that was a SATAI connection, and at pretty much the absolute limit of that connection's cable length (Electrical noise becomes a bigger factor when you're dealing with SATA) But even that was much faster than USB2.0 connection in a time-critical data recovery situation. USB and eSATA do give you a longer cable lengths to work with. USB=5m (longer if use cascading hubs (upto 30m) or special adapters like the CAT5 units available (upto 45m)) and eSATA=2m. (updated to include these lengths as suggested by Dr. Peaceful's post below)

john albrich Jan 10, 2008, 12:32pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
steve last name said:
...Why Seagate told me they couldn't get any data from the drive is a mystery, they also made a request that I destroy it rather than have it sent back....

They said "destroy it"??? Wow. Another bizarro statement from Seagate. Maybe the tech's last name was Vader or Doom.

I would at the very least assume they'd suggest the responsible thing and tell you to recycle it. And, who better to handle the most efficient recycling than the manufacturer?

But, to even tell the customer to "destroy" the drive rather than just toss it out seems whack. Theoretically, if you got hurt while "destroying" the drive based on their instruction, Seagate could be held liable for any injuries or toxic exposure.

Dr. Peaceful Jan 10, 2008, 12:58pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
Jim H said:
Oh Sure!
1. the first thing you need to do is build yourself a clean room, then you need to clean the exterior casing of the drive and remove all particles of dirt/dust larger than a couple angstroms (1 x 10 ^ -10 meters).
7. with a scanning electron microscope verify that the new heads are in exactly the same position as the old ones.

Yeah, right! Do you know how much those equipment cost! LOL ;)

John, you can use eSATA, cable's up to 2 meters due to better shielding.

john albrich Jan 10, 2008, 01:37pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
Dr. Peaceful said:
...John, you can use eSATA, cable's up to 2 meters due to better shielding.

I was just using what I had on hand. I've been thinking of buying eSATA adapters and cable just so I'd have more options while debugging. Every alternative method helps.

steve last name Jan 10, 2008, 04:16pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
John, I think you misunderstood me there, they were in possesion of the drive when they suggested destroying it, they were asking me to comply with this request or if I had not replied within 2 weeks they would automatically destroy it, I think the techies names were Click Death & Dr Doom, although I might as well have given the drive to Ren & Stimpy for a more acurate evaluation.

Last year to cool the drive down quickly I used the fridge method rather than the freezer method, as the temp in the fridge is not as extreme it was good to cool the drive fast but I think just leaving it although more time consuming is a safer solution, I live quite high up in a mountain area and the temps here are really cold during winter, without the heating in some rooms it's between 4-6 degrees centigrade, now that I've got a solution to getting the data from the drive bit by bit it's just time and if i want to leave it overnight to cool down just put it in another room.

steve last name Jan 10, 2008, 04:27pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
I also tried connecting to Windows after boot on a power line from the PSU seperate from the other drives because otherwise the fluctuation will cause the O/S to crash, then connecting the SATA port direct to the mainboard, Windows doesn't really like it but it works and cuts your drive access time down by your boot time, I only have another 280GB to go and have lost a total of about 400MB to bad read sector reallocation, at 5GB a day it might take on and off three months or more, it's a tough lesson to learn.

Meats_Of_Evil Jan 10, 2008, 11:29pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
I don't know if this might help but a way to stop some clicking sounds on hard drives is to download a Hard drive tool that includes acoustic management for the hard drive. Go to the manufacturers site and search for the tools it should have one. Good Luck!

Everything I write is Sarcasm.
Gerritt Jan 11, 2008, 04:45pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
Are you unable to get freeze spray or canned air? I keep a couple of cans of "gas duster" around all the time. You can get them from electronics supply or even some HW stores.

Just giving the drive a good "squirt" every couple of minutes may keep the temps down enough to extend your up time.


P.S. Unless you are using a blast chiller, most freezers will not cool quickly enough to cause any physical damage, but you'll want the drive to cool off a bit from its operatoinal tempuratures prior to re-freezing.

Ad Astra Per Aspera
(A rough road leads to the Stars)
We all know what we know, and everyone else knows we are wrong.
System Specifications in BIO
steve last name Jan 11, 2008, 08:00pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement

Gerritt Jan 11, 2008, 08:12pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
Have you attempted an "image" backup of the drive?
Is/was this drive a "Data" only drive or did it have OS on it as well?
If it was "Data" only, can you mark the restore problem areas, and map your selections around them?
If you can get an "image" backup, some of the files will be unrecoverable, but you may get beyond the2-5GB threshold (even if you have to recool the drive). Then you can recover some if not all of your files from the "image" that you've made, and not be dependent on the numerous retries for a specific file or location on the original drive.
The drive imaging has to be done from DOS as it is the lowest level of connectivity, vs any level of WINDOWS. Could GRCs Spinrite or some other application help...I don't know.


Ad Astra Per Aspera
(A rough road leads to the Stars)
We all know what we know, and everyone else knows we are wrong.
System Specifications in BIO
john albrich Jan 11, 2008, 10:06pm EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
Something else you might look into, not just for this incident but future problems as well, is a diagnostic/repair environment called Knoppix.

for more info.

A Knoppix info site is:

The mirrors are at:
I've used the Purdue mirror without any problem.

Knoppix is useful when you don't want the Windows OS layer mucking things up.

I've used it a time or two when I'm working on a problematic system. It's basically a Linux "Live CD" or "Live DVD" with diagnostic, utility, and general applications pre-loaded and easily accessible. I've run Knoppix 5.1 on as minimal system as an old Gigabyte mobo with Celeron CPU, 512MB RAM, using the integrated video, and on a 7yr old Compaq laptop (celeron w/ 320mb)

The DVD contains more "stuff", but the CD is compressed and actually contains over 2gb of material.

steve last name Jan 12, 2008, 05:46am EST Report Abuse
>> Re: Hard Drive Head Replacement
The damaged drive is data only, I tried using Spinrite on the drive and it didn't return a promising solution, it gave me a warning that it would be dangerous for Spinrite to continue on the drive in this state and I think it said using Spinrite on this drive could cause it to become permanently unreadable so I was averse to using it.

I know we all rely on Microsoft too much for everything, maybe accessing the drive in a Linux environment will provide better results? I haven't used Linux since University but I'll definitely give it a go, anyway with all your help at least I have a good deal of options now unlike Seagate's costly solution, 'please confirm you want us to destroy the drive' :)

Thanks again, Steve

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